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Guard Soldiers get 'good information' at benefits briefing
CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. -- During his recent deployment to Iraq, Sgt. Robert Gillespie threw his back out while putting on his armor before going on out a security mission. The Sikeston native also said he has dealt with some post-traumatic stress disorder issues since he's been home.
When he got home, the Veterans Administration stepped up to the plate to help -- directing him to the John J. Pershing VA Medical Center in Poplar Bluff and other programs to help him recover fully and transition from serving in a combat zone to getting acclimated again to civilian life.
"So I know how important military benefits can be," Gillespie said, after a recent benefits briefing at the Missouri National Guard armory in Cape Girardeau. "They can really help you get on with your life. I've heard some good stuff."
Fifty-five Southeast Missouri Guard Soldiers attended the two-hour benefits briefing on Jan. 9, where representatives from 21 different state and federal agencies gave short talks about benefits, followed by question-and-answer sessions where the Soldiers could approach the representatives individually at booths.
"This is to educate the Soldiers to all the benefits they are eligible for," said Kay Calton, a transition assistance specialist who organizes briefings like this one at armories all across the state. "And while every agency doesn't apply to every Soldier, they can listen and learn and then be able to answer questions if one of their Soldiers asks them questions. Today is about education."
Agencies represented included the Missouri Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education, MOST (Missouri's 529 College Savings Plan), Ashford University, Columbia College, the Veterans Business Resource Center, the Veterans Administration, Military One Source, the Small Business Development Center and others.
Maj. Michael Hirtz, the National Guard's state education officer, spoke to the Soldiers about several topics, including changes to the GI bill and the post-911 GI Bill, which took effect in August. The bill, which the Veterans Administration expects to cost about $78 billion over 10 years, will primarily provide Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans with tuition aid up to the maximum tuition and fees charged at the most expensive public college in the state where the veteran enrolls.
And, unlike GI Bills of the past, benefits can be passed on to dependents.
"They need to understand if they don't use it they lose it," Hirtz said. "It's money they've earned. They need to take advantage of it. If the Soldier doesn't use it, they should use it on their spouse or children. Only one in four are taking advantage of it and that's terrible."
Richard Reynolds, the area chair for the Missouri Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, told the Guardsmen that civilian employer support plays a critical role in supporting the Soldiers by following the existing laws that govern employment while Guard units are deployed.
For example, if a Soldier was scheduled for a promotion at his job while he is deployed, that promotion -- or a comparable one -- must be given to the Soldier when he returns. Insurance is required to kick back in, providing coverage from the day the Soldier returns, Reynolds said.
"You guys do a great job," Reynolds said. "But you have to understand the employer has concerns, too. So do your best to work with them."
For more information about the Missouri National Guard, please call 1-800-GoGuard or visit www.moguard.com.
For more information about this release, please contact Scott Moyers at 573-339-6237 or at firstname.lastname@example.org